Housing minister: I will resign if rough sleeping gets worse

A housing minster has promised to resign if the problem of rough sleeping gets worse on her watch.

Heather Wheeler insisted there would be improvements after the plight of England's estimated 4,700 rough sleepers was starkly highlighted by the "Beast from the East" storm which plunged the country into sub-zero temperatures over the last week.

A record number of rough sleepers were referred to a specialist helpline by members of the public as the icy blast gripped the country.

More than 3,600 alerts were sent to StreetLink, which connects the homeless to local services, between Monday and Tuesday morning - the highest total ever for a 24-hour period.

Ms Wheeler announced that pilot schemes providing "wraparound" care for homeless people would launch in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool next month.

Heather Wheeler says she will resign if rough sleeping gets worse (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)
Heather Wheeler says she will resign if rough sleeping gets worse (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

Asked if she believed the government will meet its target of eliminating rough sleeping within a decade, Ms Wheeler told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour said: "It's a high ambition. But I don't see why we won't get that sorted.

"I accept that I am inheriting a very difficult, complex problem - and I also accept that, six weeks in to the job, I am inheriting a decisive prime ministerial decree which I will deliver."

Asked how she would feel if the problem gets worse on her watch, she said: "Well there are two answers to that: a) it won't and b) I'd resign."

The £28 million "housing first" scheme will direct homeless people to shelters and help them deal with drug, alcohol, mental health and family breakdown problems.

From there they will be allowed to progress to "move-on" accommodation, supported by outreach workers, and then homes of their own.

"That is the utopia and that is the line I want to see happening for these poor friends," Ms Wheeler said.

"The Government has accepted, and acknowledges, and wants to do more in this area - and has given me the budget."